SNAP partnership aims to lead young refugees to self-sufficiency

October 19, 2013 |

It started with a story in this newsletter.

Omar Parkes, intake specialist with ResCare’s Inspire Youth program, read an article in the May issue about the opening of five new SNAP (Share Network Access Points) sites, Charlotte Works’ community-access locations scattered throughout Mecklenburg County.

He reached out to staff at each one of them to share information about ResCare’s services and programs. Marsha Hirsch, citizenship outreach coordinator and vocational education instructor at Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency (CRRA), was immediately intrigued.

CRRA’s mission is to resettle refugees and help them to become self-sufficient and contributing members of American society. This year, they’ll work with approximately 300 refugees primarily from Bhutan, Burma and Iraq.

“When somebody comes into the United States with refugee status, they’re eligible for employment status immediately. And since the purpose of our agency is to help establish self-sufficiency, we try to get them employed immediately,” Hirsch explains. “Many young people who’ve just come over, or who [have been here and] graduated from American high schools, need employment help. I was thrilled to learn about ResCare and how they can help with education and certifications.”

“This has been the most fruitful partnership,” says Parkes, noting that ResCare is also a SNAP site. “Initially, I just reached out because they were a new SNAP site. Then I toured the organization and learned more. It’s a great opportunity to reach out to a new population we haven’t served.”

ResCare’s Inspire Youth program provides educational and workforce services to youth ages 16 – 21.

So far, Parkes has spoken with dozens of refugee youth, most recently a group of 30 young people from Burma.

One young Burmese refugee enrolled in the program shortly after Parkes and Hirsch connected.

Van Lian arrived in the United States in May. His family remains in a refugee camp in Malaysia and is trying to join him here.

“Our government is not very well, so we ran to Malaysia and got [United Nations] status to come here,” he says.

Several weeks after people arrive in Charlotte, get settled into apartments and obtain identification cards, they return to CRRA for an employment intake interview. They attend vocational education classes, learn to fill out job applications and get familiar with Charlotte’s banking and bus systems. Then they’re matched with employers based on their backgrounds and skills. Most land positions working in food processing/handling/distribution, packing and assembly or convenience stores.

Hirsch referred 19-year-old Lian to ResCare.

“He’s a very strong [English] speaker,” she says. “He was a good candidate to run a pilot program with Omar to put a refugee into the certification program. He passed the adult basic literacy test and got into the system.”

Lian graduated from the eighth grade in Burma and is now working towards his GED. He also has a new job at a cotton factory. He thinks there’s a lot of opportunity in the United States and dreams of becoming a professional musician. He plays bass guitar.

“Van was floored at the thought he would get to go to school! He thought he was done,” says Hirsch. “That’s another reason we’re glad we found out about ResCare, because it’s a resource for people to take their own reigns. They have to come in with pretty strong English skills, so there’s a limited group of agencies we can refer them to.”

“I would love to have this partnership continue to grow. Marsha only sends people over who are interested in meeting their goals, and that’s appreciated,” Parkes says. “Van is the only direct participant so far, but the bigger number is the potential.”

 

Learn more about Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency. If you’re an employer who would like to discuss employing refugees, contact Paul Porcelli, employment counselor (704.535.8803).

Learn more about ResCare. If you’re an employer who would like to discuss hiring youth, contact Tremaine Rae, job developer (704.364.8898).